Alvin Gentry has more than three decades of NBA coaching experience, and when he joined the Kings prior to the 2020-21 season, his goal was to use that knowledge to help then-coach Luke Walton build a contender in Sacramento.
That goal never came to fruition and after just 17 games into his second season with the Kings, Gentry now is tasked with turning the 6-11 team around after Walton was fired Sunday in his third season with the team.
"I came here with the intentions of helping Luke as much as I possibly could," Gentry, who was promoted to interim head coach, told reporters prior to the Kings' game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night. "Didn't really think about the head coaching situation or anything like that, or the head coaching situation with any other team. I was here simply because I thought I could help Luke along. And when something like this happens, it makes you feel extremely bad, really, because I felt like I failed Luke by not being able to help in some way that this team kept going."
Walton's tenure with the Kings ended as a disappointment. He finished 68-93 in 161 games as the coach in Sacramento. After two successful seasons as an assistant with the Warriors under Steve Kerr, Walton's head coaching career hasn't lived up to the expectations. Prior to taking over in Sacramento, he posted a 98-148 record in three seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, the team he played the majority of his NBA career with.
Gentry acknowledged that he spoke to Walton after he was relieved of his duties.
"Very positive. Very positive," Gentry said. "I think anybody that knows Luke Walton knows the type of human being that he is and a dear, dear friend of mine and will always be a good friend of mine. So there was nothing negative about it, nor did he say anything negative about it."
Outside observers believe the Kings have the pieces to be a playoff contender in the Western Conference, but that maybe a system change is needed to unlock the potential of young stars De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton. For the moment, Gentry appears to be sticking with what the Kings were doing under Walton.
"As far as the philosophy of what we had, Luke and I sat down when I got here. We mapped out what we thought we had to do from an offensive standpoint and defensive standpoint," Gentry said. "So there was never anything here that I disagreed with. Did we have discussions and talk things out? Yeah, we did. But as I said, this is not about making mass changes or changing philosophies or anything like this. I think we've got a good system in place. So what I think we have to do is have our players perform better and I've got to be better and all the other coaches have to be better, and our players have to be better.
"I think it's a group thing. What De'Aaron said is very true, that it doesn't fall on one person, where we are right now. It's the collective group. I think as along as we understand that and stay together, we still have an opportunity to accomplish what we set out to at the start of the season, and that's to find a way to get ourselves in playoff contention."
The Kings entered Monday's game against the 76ers eighth in the NBA in pace (100.32), but with someone like Fox leading the attack, Sacramento probably should be right at the top of the list, and that's something Gentry will preach as he tries to turn the team's season around.
"I do think we have to speed up the pace and be consistent with the pace from the standpoint of, I think our biggest asset is our speed. We have the fastest guy in the NBA, in De'Aaron Fox," Gentry said. "We have [Tyrese Haliburton], who, with his long lanky steps is very effective in the open court. Obviously, Davion [Mitchell] played that way about Baylor and he's had his moments with us here and will continue to get better at it.
"I think when we run and get in the open court and we have guys that can make shots, obviously Buddy [Hield] is one of the premier shooters in the league. And so when we play in the open court, I think we're a much better team and that's what we'll try to do. That's what we tried to do from Day 1. So we have to try to find a way to make sure that's happening over a consistent basis."
Gentry's first test comes Monday, and then he will have 64 more games to see if he can turn the Kings into the playoff contender they believe they can be.